Macau must tell us why it closed the door

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 March, 2009, 12:00am

It is difficult to imagine a person with a more law-abiding and respectable reputation than legal scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun. As dean and long-time professor at one of Asia's most respected law schools, he has helped educate a generation of lawyers and legal scholars in Hong Kong. Yet, the University of Hong Kong academic is perceived by Macau authorities as such a security threat he was denied entry last week to deliver a lecture. We can only wonder what kind of rabble-rousing activity Professor Chan could conceivably have had in store to have so worried Macau's security apparatus. The decision to deny him entry cannot be justified.

There has clearly been a tightening of immigration controls in Macau. Twenty lawmakers from Hong Kong were refused entry in December. Felix Wong Chi-keung, a photographer from this newspaper, has been denied permission to enter Macau twice recently. He is the first Hong Kong journalist to have suffered this fate. Now, our city's academics are also being barred. As well as Professor Chan, Law Chi-kwong, a democrat and HKU associate social work professor, has been denied entry.

Hong Kong pan-democratic legislators and other people considered to be activists have been routinely barred. But with Macau passing national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law last week, the efforts to tighten immigration control seem to have intensified. There is no clear link between the refusals of entry and Article 23. Each time, officials cited their actions as being justified under the city's internal security laws, which pre-date the Article 23 legislation. They offered no further explanation. Professor Chan has been a member of the Article 23 Concern Group in Hong Kong, which challenged the government's unsuccessful attempt to implement the controversial security legislation in 2003. Perhaps that was enough for Macau to brand him as an undesirable. If so, the city is proving itself to be exceptionally narrow-minded.

Macau's Basic Law protects the freedom of the press, free expression and freedom of movement, but it seems authorities there are content to trample on such guarantees without thinking through the implications. Two messages are being sent and both are inimical to the city's long-term interests: Macau people need to be careful about what they say and do; and outside visitors are only welcome as gamblers and tourists, others should go elsewhere.

Casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun yesterday defended the Macau government, saying its approach was 'absolutely right' and describing those it has barred as 'troublemakers'. He even used a coarse Cantonese phrase to describe them. But if upstanding citizens like Professor Chan are to be considered troublemakers, then the definition is being used extremely broadly. It will cause many people to wonder whether they, too, may be refused entry. This is damaging for Macau's reputation around the world. If it has aspirations to become an international city and a modern economy, this is not the way to go about it.

Critics of Hong Kong's proposed Article 23 laws warned at the time that enacting them would change the mindset of officials and have a chilling effect on civil liberties. Macau's behaviour will add ammunition to such arguments. The latest incidents have raised troubling questions about whether Macau intends to administer its immigration and security laws fairly and transparently. An explanation is needed. And, for the sake of its own reputation, Macau should only deny entry to those who genuinely pose a threat.